Affluence is no shield against racial or ethnic discrimination, say Asians and Indian-Americans in new poll

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Even though Indian-Americans are possibly the highest-earning group in this country, a latest survey shows they are far from immune from discriminatory treatment on several fronts in their lives. While many surveys have explored Americans’ beliefs about discrimination, this survey which includes more than 500 Indian-Americans, and conducted by Harvard, asks people about their own personal experiences with discrimination.

Some interesting observations have surfaced on housing and alleged police discrimination of Indian-Americans on the sidelines of a larger survey of 3,453 people, on employment and housing discrimination. The report on Asian-Americans brought out Dec. 4, about which News India Times spoke to the co-director of the study at Harvard University, is part of a series, “Discrimination in America” done for the Harvard School of Public Health as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and National Public Radio. The report on Asian-Americans brought out Dec. 4, about which News India Times spoke to the co-director of the study at Harvard University, is part of a series, “Discrimination in America” done for the Harvard School of Public Health as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and National Public Radio and is based on a nationwide random sample of 3,453 Americans. The poll was conducted between Jan. 26 and April 9.

Indian-Americans

Overall, at least one in four, or a quarter if not more, of Asian-Americans in the survey said they had felt discrimination in housing and employment.

Nevertheless, Indian-Americans are more likely (33 percent) than both Chinese-Americans (16 percent) and Southeast Asian-Americans (11 percent) to say they live in a predominantly upper income area.

At the same time, Indian-Americans are much more likely than Chinese-Americans to report unfair police treatment. When asked whether they believe they or a family member had experienced unfair treatment by the police or by the court system because they are Asian, Indian-Americans are significantly more likely (17 percent) than Chinese-Americans (2 percent) to say they or a family member have been unfairly stopped or treated by the police because they are Asian (see Chart 2).

“The income issue, is the really big finding,” survey co-director Robert Blendon of Harvard, told News India Times. Blendon, who is the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained why. “That’s because of the whole idea that you work your way through the American system, get yourself a great education, get high paying jobs or build businesses, and you think the problems of discrimination will go away. … But they don’t.”

This includes housing issues. “When it comes to discrimination, I expect that if I live in a different neighborhood, I will have a different life. And I don’t,” Blendon said emphasizing each word to make the stark contrast.

Vivek Wadhwa, an academic, researcher, writer and entrepreneur, told News India Times, things are different from one region to another. “In North Carolina, You could feel and see the discrimination.” When he approached investors in Raleigh, “They would talk to me as ‘you people’, meaning Indian-Americans in a derogatory way,” he said. Now in Silicon Valley, California, he laughs, “It’s positive discrimination,” in favor of Indian-Americans.

Police Treatment

Overall, 12 percent of Asian-Americans say that they or a family member have been unfairly stopped or treated by the police based on their race. Chart 1 shows the overall reporting of Asian-Americans’ experiences of discrimination across a range of areas of life. A quarter or more of Asian- Americans report being personally discriminated against because they are Asian when it comes to applying for jobs (27 percent), being paid equally or considered for promotion (25 percent), or when trying to rent a room or apartment or buy a house (25 percent).

Additionally, nearly one in five Asian- Americans report being discriminated against because they are Asian when applying to or while attending college (19 percent) or when interacting with police (18 percent) (Chart 1). Blendon said the size of the sample did not allow for getting statistically significant conclusions for Indian- Americans in the category of college attendance. “Because we did six groups, we had the same problem, the numbers are not large enough to go beyond the Asian American group,” except in the area of police treatment and housing, he noted.

Racial Slurs

Some one-third of Asian-Americans have experienced slurs or insensitive comments about their race or ethnicity. Chart 3 shows that 35 percent of Asian-Americans report personally experiencing people making insensitive or offensive comments or expressing negative assumptions about their race or ethnicity. Similarly, 32 percent report personally experiencing slurs because of their race or ethnicity, the report shows.

Additionally, non-immigrant Asian Americans are more than three times as likely (20 percent) as immigrant Asian Americans (6 percent) to say they have experienced violence because they are Asian, and more than twice as likely to say they have been threatened or non-sexually harassed because they are Asian (36 percent non-immigrant, 15 percent immigrant) (Chart 4).

Income & Healthcare

An important finding was that nearly one in five low income Asian Americans avoid medical care due to concern they will be discriminated against because they are Asian. While survey data revealed that 13 percent of all Asian Americans say they have been personally discriminated against because they are Asian when going to a doctor or health clinic, nearly one in ten (9 percent) Asian Americans say they have avoided going to a doctor or seeking health care out of concern that they would be discriminated against or treated poorly because they are Asian.

For policymakers and healthcare deliverers, the most significant finding was that 19 percent of low income Asian-Americans (those earning less than $25,000) reported they avoid medical care because of concerns over discrimination, compared to 5 percent of high income Asian-Americans (those earning $75,000 or more per year).

Robert Blendon
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